Cucumis melo L.
Family Characteristics | Crop
History and Development | Plant Characteristics
| Propagation Methods
Cultural Practices | Insects
| Diseases | Harvesting
| Post Harvest
The Cucurbitaceae contains over 90 genera and 750
species. They are predominately warm season crops of tropical and
temperate subtropical origin, many of which thrive in hot and humid conditions.
Members of this family are known as vine crops, having a prostrate or climbing
nature, and are characterized by tendrils. Most are herbaceous annuals,
few are perennials, and all are frost sensitive.
Plants in this family bear alternating leaves, which
are simple and palmately lobed or palmately compound. The flowers
of this family are generally large and showy, lasting but a day.
Flowering characteristics within this family are highly variable between
and within individual species.
Fruits borne from the Cucurbitaceae family are the
economic portion. Yet in certain regions, the shoot and flowers of
certain species are also utilized. Botanically, the fruit is a pepo:
the ovary wall is fused with receptacle tissue to form a hard rind. The
fruits have a wide range of vegetable uses: salad (cucumbers), cooking
purposes (all the gourds, pumpkin and squash), dessert fruits (watermelon,
muskmelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe), and may also be candied or preserved
(ash gourds, cucumbers, and watermelon rinds). The fruits are a good
source of carbohydrates, vitamin A, ascorbic acid, and minerals.
In production, most plants are seed propagated.
Great care must be taken to maintain purity in seed production, especially
within the C. pepo species because of high interfertility.
Cross-pollination will not affect the flesh quality of the resulting fruit,
but rather it will be expressed in the next generation.
Other family members include:
hispida L.; Uax Gourd
Citrullus lunatus (Thung.) Mansf .; Watermelon
Citrullus lunatus var. citroides
(Bailey) Mansf.; Citron, Preserving
Cucumis anguria L.; West Indian Gherkin
Cucumis melo L. (Chito group); Mango Melon, Garden Lemon
Cucumis melo L. (Conomon group);
Melon, Oriental Pickling Melon
Cucumis melo L. (Flexuosus group); Armonian Cucumber, Japanese Cucumber,
Cucumis melo L. (Inodorus group); Melon, Muskmelon, Winter Melon
Cucumis melo L. (Reticulatus group); Melon, Muskmelon, Cantaloupe
Cucurbita maxima Dutch.; Winter Squash,
Cucurbita mixta Pang.; Pumpkin
Cucurbita moschata Poir.; Winter Squash, Pumpkin
Cucurbita pepo L.; Winter Squash, Marrow, Summer Squash, Pumpkin
Cucumis sativus L.; Cucumber
Lagenaria siceraria (Mol.) Standl.; Bottle Gourd
Luffa acutangula Roxb.; Angled Loofah
Luffa cylindrica Roem.; Smooth Loofah
Momordica charantia L.; Bitter Gourd, Balsam Pear
Sechium edile S.W.; Chayote
Telfairia spp.; Oyster Nut
Trichosanthes anquina L.; Snake Gourd
CROP HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT
Overview The species Cucumis melo
var. reticulatus is native to parts of North Africa and today is
referred to as "cantaloupe melon". Cantaloupe was cultivated in Egypt
as early as 2400 BC though at this time no distinction was made between
netted and non-netted types and muskmelon was the name used. Early
evidence of muskmelon can be traced as spreading across the Mid-East (Iran
and India) which is considered as another point of origin and diversification.
By the 1500’s Spain had brought C. melo var. reticulatus
into production. From there it crossed the Atlantic on Columbus’
second voyage, where North American Indians began to put it into production.
By the mid-1600’s, it was cultivated from Florida to New England.
Genetically, cantaloupe became highly diverse early in its production.
In 1881, W Altee Burpee Co. introduced a highly netted cultivar- ‘Netted
Gem’- from which many modern muskmelons have been derived.
In the United States, the true muskmelon is called
“Cantaloupe.” The true cantaloupe is Cucumis melo var. cantaloupensis.
Cucumis melo var inodorus is another significant melon of this
species. This group is often referred to as "Winter Melon," and includes
the honeydew, casaba, Crenshaw, Persian, and others. They are white
skinned with either smooth or corrugated surface. Winter melons ripen
late and have a storage life of about a month.
In the United States cantaloupes are classified
by location. The Eastern-type cantaloupe is round to oval , usually
sutured, and netted, and is not intended for long distance shipping. Many
of these cultivars are disease resistant or tolerant, primarily to Fusarium
wilt and/or powdery mildew. The varieties 'Eclipse', 'Starship',
and 'Cordele' have excellent quality and are sold to both local and shipping
markets. They are mid-weight fruits (4-7 lbs) with moderate to heavily
netted skins. Days to maturity for each of these varieties is 85
to 86 days.
The Western-type cantaloupe is round to slightly
oval, sutureless, very well netted, with a firm flesh that keeps well over
long distance shipping. These are generally smaller than the Eastern-type
(averaging 3 to 4 lbs), maturing a bit earlier (80 days). Their shelf
life tends to be longer. The varieties 'Super 45' and 'Laguna' are
considered the best quality throughout various parts of the US (primarily
the central states). 'Super 45' is tolerant to powdery mildew.
‘Earlisweet’ is resistant to Fusarium race 1. The high quality variety,
‘Harper Hybrid’ also has resistance to Fusarium wilt.
Production In 1996, there were 106,570
acres planted in the United States, having a value of $400,795,000 nationwide.
The primary production areas are in the western states of CA, TX, and AZ
(arid and semi-arid regions). California acreage accounts for 70%
of US production. The top melon producing states of the southern
US were Georgia, with 3,865 acres in production; Virginia, 1,020;
Florida, 732; and Oklahoma, 675. The per capita consumption of cantaloupe
has been declining over the past 50 years. In 1946, the per capita
consumption was 11.2 pounds, by 1993, it had dropped to 8.5 pounds.
| There are many melon varieties in production, most
of which are specialized in niche markets. Honeydew type melons of
excellent quality are the cultivars 'Passport', 'Sweet Dream', and 'Venus'.
Of these, 'Passport' has the best possibilities for limited shipping.
They each have a netted exterior and a juicy green flesh. The varieties
‘Earlidew,’ ‘HoneyDew Green Flesh,’ ‘Tam Dew,’ and ‘HoneyDew Orange’ are
in production for both shipping and local consumption. ‘HoneyDew
Green Flesh’ has disease resistance to crown blight and ‘Early Dew’ to
The casaba melon has characteristically spicy flesh;
the Persian melon has orange-pink, sweet fruit. These are two
of the more popular varieties in niche markets.
Overview. Cucumis melo var reticulatus
is a warm season vining crop, generally requiring 80 to 120 days of warm
conditions from seed to maturity. Best melon quality is obtained
in areas with high temperatures, high light, minimal rainfall, and relatively
low humidity during the growing season.
Roots Cantaloupe roots spread
out laterally and vertically to substantial depths. As common
to most Cucurbitaceae, cantaloupes have a substantial volume of fibrous
roots. As the vine begins to lengthen, root initials develop at the
nodes. These roots become more significant for nutritional and water
acquisition to the growing vine and fruit. If the vines are disrupted
and the roots are broken, productivity is diminished.
In plastic culture this effect is diminished or eliminated.
Stem The main vine grows about 18 inches
without branching and produces only male flowers
(with 3 to 5 stamen). After this, the stem branches out from
the crown. Each branch of the main stem bears 1 to 2 perfect flowers near
the connection to the main stem. Under favorable conditions, these
perfect flowers and those formed on the main stem just before branching
form what is called the ‘crown set.’ Heavy crown set is desirable
because of the early harvest and generally better market prices high fruit
quality, and concentrated maturity. Stems of cantaloupes are cylindrical,
and covered with trichomes. They are rigid and brittle, not responding
well to movement.
Flower Cantaloupe flowers are andromonoecious,
first producing groups of male flowers in clusters in the lower leaf axils,
then producing single perfect flowers (those having both male and female
organs) along the branching stem. Each of the flowers is open for
only one day before senescing.
(diagram provided by www.acesag.auburn.edu)
Fruit In order for fruit set, pollination
must occur. Many growers have found adequate pollination requires
the introduction of honeybees. Ten to 15 bee visits per fruit is
key for adequate seed set, thus a marketable fruit size. This increases
earliness, the yield, and the quality of the crop.
The fruit set of cantaloupe is cyclic.
Several fruit are set per plant in each cycle. Only one to four fruit
per plant mature to marketable size as the previously set fruit inhibit
the growth of younger fruit. The reduction in fruit size and soluble
solids occurs in proportion to the increased set.
| Seed Numerous cream colored seed
are borne internally in a mucilage along receptacle tissue in the locular
cavity. 1000 to 1,200 seeds are contained in each ounce, and have
a potential viability of 5 years.
Overview. C. melo var reticulatus
is propagated by seed. Germination of the seed occurs at moisture
levels from slightly above permanent wilting to full water capacity.
The optimum temperature for germination is 73 to 74°F (23-24°C),
yet the range is from 70 to 95°F. The use of fungicide treated
seed prevents damping off which is prevalent under cool, wet, soil conditions
common in the spring planting season. Transplants are often used
in field production, having various benefits.
Direct seeding After the danger of
frost, seeds are planted along the rows at a depth of ½ to 1 inch.
Two to 4 pounds of seed are used per acre (19,000 to 20,000 seeds per pound).
Transplants The use of transplants has become
favorable. Seed costs are reduced using transplanting techniques
over direct seeding; using 4 ounces to get the same plant stand as when
using 3 lbs per acre when direct seeding. Seeding for transplants
is performed in greenhouses or hotbeds 2 to 4 weeks prior to the date of
expected out planting. Two to 3 seeds are planted in each 3 to 4
inch round or square peat pot or plug tray. They are then out planted
when they have 2 or 3 true leaves. Transplants result in earlier
production - especially when used with polyethylene mulch. Some of the
benefits of using transplants are the earlier yield, the decreased cost
of hybrid seed, as well as being able to take full advantage of drip irrigation
and black plastic.
Care must be taken with transplants (and young seedlings)
to prevent damage from wind and sand. Often windbreaks of grasses
provide adequate protection.
rotation because of potential disease problems. It is best to wait
three years before planting melons on the same ground. During
the production of the melons, bees are required for adequate fruit set
| Overview. The trend in recent years has been
to use a combination of soil fumigation, black plastic mulch, and drip
irrigation to produce a higher quality and earlier yielding fruit.
The use of crop rotation with a winter cover crop can increase the soil
tilth and decrease pest and pathogen activity. Crops such as
winter rye should be plowed under at least 1 month before planting. Even
if using crop rotation,
melons should not follow other melons or cucurbits in the
Soil Considerations The soil environment
preferred by cantaloupe is a well drained, sandy loam. Heavy clay
or peat soils tend to not heat up as quickly as sandier soils, and also
hold more water and invite more pathogen activity. A soil pH between
5.5 and 7.0 encourages adequate nutrient availability and uptake.
If pH is lower than 5.5, foliage yellows and produces fewer perfect flowers
and/or blossom may abscise. Performing soil tests prior to field
preparation is essential for determining the liming requirement as
well as nutrient availability in the soil, providing insight into the fertility
program for that particular site.
In making initial assessments of the land,
a history of the land should be obtained and soil testing performed to
determine the past chemical use and any possible residual effects (especially
pesticides and herbicides).
Temperature During germination of seed, the
soil temperature should be above 60°F. The optimal air temperature
is 90°F. Cantaloupe performs best if the mean temperature
during the growing season is 65° to 90°F. Temperatures of
110° to 115°F cause vines to temporarily wilt, resulting in sunburned
fruit with a reduced shelf life.
If grown in cooler temperatures (especially those
of the east and south), pathogen infestation becomes problematic.
Planting Date In the southern states, seeds
for transplants are sown in March, and seedlings are planted in the field
throughout April. In general, seed are sown or seedlings out planted
2-6 weeks after danger of last frost.
Bed Preparation and Plant Spacing Commercial
production in the South has tended to utilize raised beds, 6 to 8 inches
in height, which facilitates in soil drainage. The raised beds have
6 foot centers with 5 to 6 feet between rows. The in row spacing
of plants is 18-24 inches. These parameters result in stands of 3,600
to 5,500 plants per acre. Traditionally 36 inches is allowed in row.
Direct seeded plants should be thinned to 12 inches.
The use of black plastic mulch has been
beneficial in several respects. It increases the soil temperature
earlier in the growing season, conserves moisture, and reduces several
common problems: soil compacting and crusting, ground rot of fruit,
fertilizer leaching, drowning of crops, evaporation, and competition from
weeds. Black plastic mulch and/or the use of transplants has been
found to have greater yields, gross return, and net economic value over
a conventional practice of bare soil, direct seeded production.
Various studies have been done using row covers
in production of cantaloupe. In the south, row covers are often not
economical or even advantageous due to unpredictable spring weather conditions.
If row covers are used, they offer substantial insect protection; however,
they must be removed once female flowers open, or flowers will not be pollinated
and fruit will not set.
Pollinators - Honeybees The use of
honeybees is requisite for flower pollination/fruit set. At least
one beehive per acre is required, and placing up to three hives per acre
will increase fruit size and earliness. The placement of hives within
the field encourages more bee pollination of the cantaloupe flowers, compared
with peripheral placement. Application of pesticides should be delayed
until evening when bee activity is low to avoid killing the bees.
After fruit has been set, the hives can be removed. Many growers
opt to rent hives rather than buy and maintain them on their own.
Fertility Cantaloupe requires a moderate
level of soil and plant fertility. Fertilizer applications should
be made at least three times: broadcast and disked in or deep drilled;
banded in place with planter; and side dressed when vines begin to run.
Fertilizer can be applied preplant or through drip irrigation. Preplant
fertilizer should be applied in a 5 to 6 inch band and incorporated in
the top 3 inches of the soil. On average, the harvesting of one ton
of fruit removes 4 lbs. of N, 1.4 lbs. P2O5, and
5 to 9 lbs. K2O from the soil. Considerable boron is required
and may be applied as a foliar spray. Molybdenum deficiency occurs
more frequently when using black plastic and when the nitrogen fertilizer
that has been applied has not been disked in deep enough, causing pH induced
deficiency. Foliar analysis of plants should be taken at least two
times during the growing season. The nutrient sufficiency ranges
at the time between the initial flower start to the formation of small
fruit (time 1) and between the formation of fruit to harvest (time 2).
Weed Control As with most all crop production,
weed infestation has a marked effect on crop yield. In the south
eastern United States, 13% of cantaloupe loss is attributed to weeds.
It is crucial to eliminate weed competition, especially during 3 to 6 weeks
after crop emergence. Between row cultivation and tillage techniques
such as moldboard plowing, disking, and the use of plastic mulches provide
adequate weed control.
Weed competition is drastically reduced once leaves
shade out the soil. By the 6th week, leaf density has generally met
this threshold, and cultivation/herbicide is no longer necessary.
Irrigation Cantaloupes requires a supply
of at least one acre inch of water per week from rainfall or irrigation
in the early stages of development. Overhead irrigation during fruit development
causes poor netting and a bland tasting fruit because of a low concentration
of soluble solids. In some places, low to no irrigation is recommended
after early fruit set and during harvest except enough to maintain foliage
so as to prevent sun scald. Irrigation for this crop has been supplied
by overhead sprinkler, furrow, and drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is
becoming the acceptable method. It has provided growers with an increased
earliness and total and marketable yields compared with furrow. In
areas of limited rainfall, drip irrigation can reduce water usage by 40%
less than furrow. When used with black plastic mulch, the drip system
influences reduced weed competition, no restriction of field operations
due to saturated soils, and the delivery of water through the harvest season.
Drip systems are established during bed formation,
installing the drip tape 3 to 4 inches from the center of the bed at a
depth of 2 to 3 inches.
Fertigation is possible and effective with drip
irrigation systems. It is useful in condensing fertilization and
irrigation scheduling. The following table is a general recommendation
Fertility programs should be determined through soil and foliar analyses
throughout the growing season.
Total Fertigated N Requirement
Actual N/Week (lbs./acre)
Ammonium nitrate (lbs./acre/wk)
(lbs. per 1000 plants/wk)
Calcium nitrate (lbs./acre/wk)
(lbs. per 1000 plants/wk)
6 lbs. 4 oz
Cucumis melo is agreeable to various insect
pests. Striped cucumber beetles, spotted cucumber beetles, pickleworms,
flea beetles, melon worm, aphids and mites cause much damage to crops.
They can be controlled through the use of insecticides applied at specific
times through the season. Applications should coincide with the pest
life cycle and crop maturity stage. Insecticide use should be prevented
during bee pollination, and overall limited to conserve bee populations
and the parasites and predators of the mentioned insect pests. As
with the use of any other chemical, the potential residual problems should
be addressed before application of chemicals to the crop.
Beetles The striped (3 stripes down its back) and spotted (12
black spots on its back) cucumber beetles are small (1/5 inch long)
with a yellow-green background color. They persist through
the winter either through hibernation, if cold, or remain semi-active in
mild winters. The beetles feed on alternate hosts in proximal areas
until the crop is planted. They can make early attacks on crops -
just after seed emergence or transplant establishment. The larvae
feed on roots and stems, causing stunting of small plants. The adult
beetles feed on the foliage and the fruit. Plants may be stunted
or killed and fruits may be cosmetically damaged, thereby reducing marketable
yield. In addition to mechanically damaging the plant and fruit, beetles
are also a known vector for the bacteria causing bacterial wilt.
Control of cucumber beetles is necessary for profitability.
Crop should be monitored for beetle appearance and infestation. Foliar
sprays at onset of beetle presence can adequately diminish the beetle population.
This insect is a major (and the most damaging) pest to cucurbits.
It is the larvae of a moth that migrates north each year from tropical
regions. Female moths lay their eggs on tender buds and new leaves,
and sometimes new fruit. The larvae do not emerge until later in the season,
developing inside the buds and blossoms. They cause severe late season
damage by burrowing into flowers and then tunnel into and through
the fruit, causing the fruit to be unmarketable. Larvae are recognized
by their pale green/black spotted bodies, which become more of a coppery
color as they age .
Control of pickleworm should begin prior to planting
by deep plowing, crop rotation, and early planting of crop. Chemical
applications have limited effectiveness as larvae are rarely seen.
The adult population may be chemically controlled if begun as soon as moths
appear. Pheromone lures may be useful in attracting adults, and determining
the timing of chemical applications. A few pickleworm resistant varieties
are available and should be used where severe problems exist.
Aphids and mites
These insects create problems if their populations are allowed to build
up, causing plant damage by removing volumes of sap and vectoring diseases.
Various cultural practices, such as heavy nitrogen
fertilization and pyrethroid insecticide use create environments susceptible
to high aphid populations by increasing plant succulence and decreasing
the natural predator count.
Mites also suck sap and can, in hot and dry weather,
defoliate plants. Infestation of mites occurs along the edge of fields
where favorable, dusty conditions may exist. Mites are minuscule
arthropods, and can be monitored by shaking leaves onto a sheet of white
paper and watching for moving specks or by using a hand lens to inspect.
Miticide applications five days apart are effective at diminishing population.
Areas of infestation should be monitored to ensure containment.
Chemical controls The use of insecticides
should coincide with the particular insect pest needing to be controlled.
Applications are most effective when made during specific insect stages,
such as upon initial infestation, before reproduction occurs and immediately
after egg hatch, to mention a few. As with the use of other chemicals,
alternation of insecticides decreases the possibilities of insect populations
building up resistance.
Disease has been a substantial cause of crop loss,
be it through defoliation, rot of plant or fruit, or loss of root system.
Disease resistance has been developed into certain varieties. Varieties
with resistance against Alternaria leaf spot, crown blight, anthracnose,
cucumber mosaic, scab, downy mildew, Fusarium wilt, bacterial wilt and
powdery mildew exist and should be used where such diseases are present.
In many varieties, the resistance is not complete, making fungicide application
necessary or beneficial. Cultural practices, such as cullage removal
and crop rotation, can also reduce disease pressure. Diseases associated
with root knot nematodes (Meloidogyne sp) are also prevalent.
Fusarium wilt is caused by Fusarium oxysporum
f sp melonis. This particular Fusarium infects only cantaloupe,
crenshaw melon, and honeydew melon. Plants may be infected during
seed/seedling stage, exhibiting “damping off” at the soil line or a failure
of seeds to emerge if they are attacked earlier. This fungus enters
through natural openings or injury sites, and multiplies in the vascular
tissue. This increases in severity in warm, dry weather. In
older plants, this causes the symptoms of temporary wilting (of the vine
apex) during the hottest part of the day for a few days, but then results
in death of the plant. Other plant symptoms include a progressively
darkening streaking of the stem’s vascular tissue near the soil line.
In moist weather, a white to pink fungal growth may develop in infected
Fusarium rot is caused by the soil
borne fungus F. roseum. Ripe fruit are most affected.
Plastic culture reduces the pressure of this disease, which may be caused
by fruit contact with the soil through a point of entry caused by an insect
or mechanical injury. Infection may also occur during and after harvest
if infected fruits come in contact with healthy fruits, plants or soil.
Moist environments can lead to an increased susceptibility and presence
The fungus survives in infected plant parts
and/or the soil from season to season. It may also survive on the
roots and stems of dead plants. Removal of plant material after harvest
is essential for reducing inoculum, as is strategic fungicide application.
Tan lesions of one inch in diameter may occur anywhere
on the fruit. The decay moves inward, often through all layers of
tissue. Diseased tissue is delineated from healthy, and can be easily
removed. However, such affected fruit are not marketable.
Mosaic Viruses: Cucumber Mosaic virus (CMV),
squash mosaic virus (SqMV), and watermelon mosaic virus (WMV) are the most
common viruses to attack Cucumis melo. Symptoms of these viruses
are similar, though the biological characteristics (vectors and over wintering
mode) differ. Laboratory testing is necessary to determine which
virus is present.
Plants can be infected at any stage of growth.
If infected as a young seedling, the symptoms appear on the youngest set
of leaves; if on older plants, the most actively growing tissue.
A mosaic pattern develops - a pattern of varying chlorotic spots of many
shades of yellow to green. The infected leaves and vine become deformed
and stunted. A witches-broom symptom may appear. The extent
of productivity loss depends on the plant’s reproductive stage at infection.
Fruit will continue to develop normally if the plant is infected midseason,
while those infected early will either not set fruit at all or set poor
quality and deformed fruit.
Controlling mosaic viruses is best performed through
eradication of host biennial and perennial weeds around production areas
and applications of insecticides to control/prevent populations of virus
vectors (aphids and cucumber beetles) from building. Also, it is
important to use only certified virus free seeds or transplants.
Roguing infected specimen can contain in-field spreading of viruses.
| Bacterial Wilt The causal agent of
bacterial wilt is Erwinia tracheiphila. This bacteria infects
most of the Cucurbitaceae family. An infection can spread throughout
the plant in a matter of a day. It spreads from the running vines
to the crown, and spreads outward through the entire plant. The clogging
of the vascular tissue by the multiplying bacteria causes plant decline
and death. Identification techniques: look for a white ooze that
is squeezed out of stem tissue.
The cucumber beetle is the primary vector for this
disease. Control for bacterial wilt begins with beetle eradication.
If disease is noticed in the field, an insecticide should be applied and
the infected plants rogued.
(photo provided by www.acesag.auburn.edu)
The fungus over winters on crop debris and in weeds,
which makes roguing of infected plant material (and cullage) a significant
method of control. However, this does not safe guard the crop as
spores can be blown long distances with wind currents.
| Powdery mildew Erysiphe
cichoracearum is the causal agent, which infects the majority of Cucurbitaceae
crops. Symptoms of this disease appear on foliage first. Infected petioles,
stems, and upper surfaces of leaves have white to gray powdery growth.
The leaves become chlorotic, turn brown and papery dry. The loss
of foliage causes plant stunting, an increase in sun scalded fruit, and
a reduced sugar content in the fruit.
Powdery mildew is most prevalent in regions with
a higher temperature (80°F) and relative humidity (50-90%) through
the growing season. Under favorable conditions, the disease can severely
infect the entire field in a matter of a week.
Many powdery mildew resistant varieties are available,
and offer the best means of controlling production loss from disease.
Chemical controls A variety of fungicides
and bactericides are available. Residual effects must be monitored as toxicity
might build up in the soil.
Alternaria leaf spot
Downy mildew underside of leaf
Downy mildew upper side of leaf
Vigorous plant growth often aids in overcoming diseases
- encouraging the plants to out grow the infection. The introduction
of various microorganisms is also effective at controlling specific soil
borne bacteria. Certain strains of Streptomyces sp, a soil
dwelling fungus, suppress the damage caused by Alternaria and Fusarium.
It can be applied as a seed treatment, soil drench, or through drip irrigation
systems in greenhouses.
Overview Harvest usually begins 68 days after
planting, or 35-55 days after full bloom depending upon cultivar and environment.
The period of harvest begins when fruits reach the desired slip stage,
and lasts usually one month (~27 days) with three pickings per week, until
the plants cease to produce marketable fruits. The stage at which melons
are picked depends upon the final market. Those remaining on the
vine the longest tend to have the greatest accumulation of sugars.
The harvesting of melons begins in the early morning,
when fruit temperatures are cooler. Generally, the fruit harvested
from the first cycle of fruit set have the highest quality. Fruit are selected
for harvest according to their stage of maturity. Those destined
for shipping are picked at the ½ slip stage when half of the stem
remains intact upon removal from the vine. These fruits are moderately
ripe having 8 to 12% soluble solids, and can be left at room temperature
for several days to allow them to soften and improve in aroma and flavor.
Melons destined for local markets can remain on the vine until the full
slip stage, when soluble solids reach 15% and the fruit slips free of the
stem. Melons sold to local markets tend to be the most flavorful as sugar
content of fruit increases only while attached to the vine.
Ripeness of fruit is determined by physical properties
or with instruments. A well developed, raised netting; smooth, rounded
stem scars; and characteristic aroma are the predominant qualities of ripeness.
The percent of soluble solids can be measured in the field with a hand
Melons are usually hand harvested. Mechanization
cannot be effectively employed since maturity of fruits is highly variable.
Mechanical harvesters may be used at the end of the season when vine destruction
is not the limiting factor.
Harvestable yields vary considerably. Two
thousand to 5,000 cantaloupes may be harvested per acre when grown on bare
ground, while yields on plastic mulch may be as high as 6,000 to 12,000
individual fruit per acre.
Post harvest practices determine the deliverable
quality of fruit. Precooling is necessary immediately after harvest
to slow down respiration, preventing the burning up of sugars which
reduces quality and shelf life. Precooling may be performed using
cold water (hydrocooling), cold air, or ice. The method used is based
primarily on economics and shipping practices (containers). Most
often, buyers specify the method in accordance with packing and shipping
The shelf life of cantaloupes is generally 12-16
days. Honeydew tend to retain quality for up to one month.
The ripeness of the fruit at harvest determines the length of storability.
Cantaloupe picked at ½ slip can be stored for up to 15 days at 36-41°F
and 95% relative humidity. Those picked at full slip will keep for
5 to 14 days at 32 to 36°F and 95% relative humidity.
Most often, melons are shipped in large boxes, but
marketed to the public loosely at a per melon price.
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